A Secret Teaching

Gerry Kopelow

A few years ago my Dharma group assisted Rinpoche's first teacher, the Sayadaw U Thila Wunta, in the construction of a 21ft pagoda at the St. Norbert's Arts and Cultural Centre on the outskirts of Winnipeg. The pagoda project was a big success with lots of enthusiastic support from various ethnic Buddhist communities.

During the process, I developed a warm relationship with Bhikkhu Vinita, an English-speaking monk that the Sayadaw had brought with him. Several months after the completion of the project, I received a phone call from Burma. It was Bhikkhu Vinita on the line with an invitation to come to the Sayadaw's monastery for several weeks of instruction in what he described as "Secret Teachings of Annapanasati". This was the very practice that Rinpoche had me doing for a decade or so, and I found the invitation to travel to Asia intriguing.

I was tempted to drop everything and go, but thought it prudent to ask Rinpoche about it first. So I emailed Terry, Rinpoche's attendant, and described the invitation and requested Rinpoche's opinion on the matter.

About ten days later I received another phone call. "Rinpoche would like to speak with you", Terry told me. A moment later, I heard Rinpoche's mellifluous voice: "Master Gerry", he intoned gravely, "I understand you have been offered a secret teaching?"

"Yes, Sir", I replied.

He continued, still with a very serious intonation, "You have a wife do you not?"

"Yes, Sir, I do".

"Well, you will have to take her along won't you? And you know, it's very rough out there in the jungle, very primitive. She won't like it there. She won't like it there at all".

"Perhaps, not Sir", I responded, a bit deflated.

He continued, somewhat more cheerfully, "You have been doing good work out there in Winnipeg, and you know, I think you should stay there and accumulate further merit. What do you think?"

I was a bit disappointed, but I trusted Rinpoche always, and accepted his judgment. Then a surprise.. "You know, I could give you a secret teaching if you like".

This I could not resist. "Yes, yes, Sir, I would welcome any teaching you would care to give me!"

Rinpoche paused dramatically, and then, in a conspiratorial whisper, imparted the secret teaching: "Keep breathing!"

This was the only time I spoke to Rinpoche on the telephone.

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